How to Create a Graphic Design PDF Portfolio

Use a single PDF style to showcase your expertise

If you want to create a high-quality brochure-style piece showcasing your best graphic design work, create a single PDF. Most (if not all) graphic software programs can export a design as a high-quality, high-resolution PDF that can be emailed to anyone you want to demonstrate your work to.

Designer working at a glass-topped desk while sitting on a ball
Blend Images / Hill Street Studios / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Select Work for Your Portfolio

As with any portfolio, the most important decision is which pieces to include. Consider these tips:

  • Focus on the types of projects you want to do: If you have a specific focus, such as book design, select the pieces that best represent it. If you're early in your career and don’t have a focus (or don’t want one), choose a variety of pieces that you enjoyed working on.
  • Choose your best work: The goal isn't to show everything you've ever done. Stick with a "less is more" philosophy, choosing a small selection of pieces that highlight a particular style, technique, or industry.
  • Be current: Design trends and technology change quickly, so use your most recent work as much as possible, as well as pieces that show you know the latest techniques.
  • Include personal projects: You don't have to include only paid projects. Personal projects show that you have a passion for design. Further, if you're just starting out, you may only have design school projects to showcase. Allow the work itself, rather than the client or publication name, to impress viewers.
  • Show the process: Show the creative stages you went through when creating each design. Doing so illustrates your depth of understanding and mastery of design techniques and concepts.

Your portfolio should include between 10 and 20 examples. Ten pieces are enough to show your abilities, and more than 20 can feel scattered and overwhelming.

Organize the Portfolio

For each piece you've chosen, consider adding the following information:

  • Client name
  • Industry
  • Project description
  • Your role in the project (such as a designer or art director)
  • Where the work appeared
  • Awards, publications, or recognition related to the project

Along with the project details, include some helpful information for viewers:

  • Cover letter
  • Bio
  • Mission statement
  • Other background information
  • Client or industry list
  • Services list
  • Contact information

Consider hiring or teaming up with a professional writer to prepare your content, as it will be the voice of your portfolio. If you need your pieces photographed, also consider a professional.

Design the Portfolio

Treat the design process as you would during a client project. Come up with several concepts and tweak them until you're happy with the result. Create a consistent layout and style throughout. Using the grid system may be helpful here. Remember that the PDF design is just as much a showcase of your talent as the work within it.

Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress are great options for creating a multi-page layout, and Illustrator works well for graphics and text-heavy freeform layouts. Think of the flow of content: start with a quick overview, and then go into project examples. Finish with additional text or contact information.

Create the PDF

Once your design is complete, export it to PDF. Be sure to save the original file so you can add and edit projects later. One thing to think about here is file size, as you will be emailing this document often. Adjust the compression options in the software until you reach a happy medium between quality and file size. You can also use Adobe Acrobat Professional to piece together several pages of design and to reduce the size of the final PDF.

Use the PDF

You can email the PDF directly to prospective clients, or print or display it on a tablet at interviews.

Update your PDF portfolio often with your newest, greatest work.